Antwerp (Antwerpen)

In 4 words: Charming, but not striking.
Distances are all walkable.
Love its central square with its unusual fountain.
On the other hand: Even in its historic core, there is no homogeneity in architecture.
Worthy attractions: Rubenshuis, the estate of the famous native son; taking a horse-drawn double-decker carriage ride; Onze-Lieve-Vrouwe Kathedraal.
Left for another visit: Sint-Pauluskerk; Vleeshius; Nationaal Scheepvaartmuseum; Sint-Jacobskerk; Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten; Museum Plantin-Moretus.
Last visit: June 2008.

Grote Markt

Antwerp is worth exploring, but it managed to disappoint us a little. We expected something similar to Brugge, but discovered something more similar to Brussels.

Things to See

The main town square, Grote Markt ♥♥♥ is stunning, with the magnificent Town Hall on one side and the row of Houses of the Guilds on another. The Brabo fountain in the center of the square is quite unusual in that it is not enclosed in a basin; the water seeps through the cobblestones into the underground reservoir.

Handschoenmarkt ♥♥, in front of the Cathedral, is an atmospheric triangular square. There is also a tiny peaceful cluster of pedestrian streets centered on Hendrik-Conscienceplein ♥♥. Overall, though, strolling around the city yields mixed sights of attractive medieval and rather plain post-industrial buildings.

Antwerp is home to several interesting sights, including the house of its most famous native son, Peter Paul Rubens. The Rubenshuis ♥ presents not very much in terms of furnishings that would provide insight into the lifestyle of its owner, but is full of paintings, by Rubens, his pupils and his contemporaries. There is a pleasant garden to linger for a few minutes.

Antwerp’s Cathedral of Our Lady ♥ is spacious and bright, with a number of brilliant stained-glass mosaics and a beautifully lighted chapel to the left of the nave. The vaulted ceiling and tiered dome add to the feeling of vastness. There are also several important artworks on display, including four Rubens altarpieces.

For those interested in shopping, the broad Meir and more upmarket Schuttenshofstraat that runs parallel can provide plenty of opportunities.

Among other sights that we decided not to visit on our trip to Antwerp is the Museum of Fine Arts, with a supposedly good collection of Flemish painters, the Maritime Museum, located in the outwardly impressive Steen citadel, Plantin-Moretus museum of printing, and a couple of churches.

We did take the horse-drawn car tour ♥♥ that leaves from Grote Markt. It takes you around the city center in about 45 minutes. No commentary, but the experience is rather fun. We “lucked” into rain, braved it on the upper deck under an umbrella, the benefit being that we were the only people on the deck; in good weather, it may get tight with just a dozen seats.

Places to Eat

All places last visited in Summer 2008.

Our B&B host confirmed the recommendation that we picked on the web for Le Zoute Zoen ♥♥♥ (Zirkstraat). The restaurant consists of two dining rooms, the bigger of which is decorated to resemble a library or a study in some nice mansion. Excellent food with attractive presentation. We had goat cheese and shrimp croquette salad for appetizers, and traditional beef stew and vol-au-vent for the main dishes. Very good wine selection. Friendly service. With apéritifs and a wine bottle, our damage came to €106.

One other recommendation that we picked from the internet, was for Mistral ♥♥♥ (Pelgrimstraat, not far from the Cathedral). The place is rather tiny, no more than 30 seats, in two dining areas on two floors. No English menu, but the very friendly staff all speaks English and will be happy to help. Most of the clientele appeared to be locals. The food is out of this world. Appetizers are mostly elaborate salads. For main courses, we had a heavenly sea bass in garlic sauce and a delicious filet in cognac and mushroom sauce. Selection of wine is limited, but adequate. Our damage: €110, including a bottle of wine.

We tried to rely on a guidebook for a place to have lunch, but both of our targets turned out to be non-existent. We ended up randomly picking restaurant Bacino ♥♥ (Torfburg, right by the Cathedral). We had a dinner-like meal, which was a bit expensive for the purposes of lunch, but was very good at that. There are five soups to select from, and our choice of a mushroom soup and a fish soup were both excellent. Soup portions are big enough to suffice for lunch on their own. We then had lamskotelet and shrimp scampi. Plus a couple of beers. The damage: €59.

We also set aside time for a visit to Kulminator ♥♥♥, a beer Mecca on Vlemincksveld, 10 minutes of walk from the city center. A pub of medium size. Its price-list reads as an encyclopedia of all sorts of Belgian and international beer; there are over 600 varieties. We sampled a few at random, with mixed results. I advise you to stick to the ones you at least have an inclination that you’d like, in order to avoid being served something that you can’t drink. Also, don’t say what you want – point to the item on the price-list, or you risk being brought something altogether different, the name of which sounds similar to what you pronounced. It’s a lot of fun!

Car parking

One thing that pleasantly surprised me in Antwerp are numerous underground and covered car parks in the city center. Driving into town is not a problem.

Other notes for Belgium